Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE WATER LADY by Alice B. McGinty Kirkus Star


How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation

by Alice B. McGinty ; illustrated by Shonto Begay

Pub Date: March 30th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-525-64500-9
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

An elegant reminder that water is central to life.

Set on the sprawling Diné reservation, this beautifully illustrated picture book will educate young readers about the beauty and rigors of life on the high-desert plateau. Young Cody wakes up thirsty, but the cup near his bed is empty, as is the water bucket his mother relies on in the kitchen. His older siblings head off to catch the school bus, and Cody runs to check on the water barrels outside. It’s a scorching hot day. The land is dry. The horses, chickens, and dogs are thirsty, too. But Cody’s family, like many families on his reservation, do not have running water, and they must wait for the water lady, Darlene, to replenish their stores. Begay’s watercolors capture the mauve and pink hues of the juniper and piñon arroyos, bespeaking his #ownvoices knowledge of Navajo Nation. The velvet dresses, turquoise jewelry, and artwork on walls reveal a sovereign people with ancient ties to the land. With lyrical language and friendly faces emerging on each page, it is the image of the water lady, moving from her job driving a yellow school bus to her job driving a yellow water truck, that will stick in the minds of readers, revealing the conservationists’ spirit that still pervades in a simple Diné lifestyle. An author’s note addresses the fight for wells and more readily available water; it’s followed by a note from Darlene Arviso herself. A list of sources and a well-placed glossary seal the deal. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 39.3% of actual size.)

This quiet yet touching story will open young readers’ eyes in a multitude of ways.

(author's note, sources, glossary) (Picture book. 5-10)